Tuesday, February 2, 2010

tin ears and tin mines

or Reason #2,317 why I'm not a musician

When I watched the telecast of the Grammy Awards Sunday night, Taylor Swift's performance was actually my favorite of the evening. Yeah, it wasn't studio perfection, but Ms. Swift exuded lots of charm and enthusiasm, seeming genuinely glad to be on stage not only performing bits of two original songs, but exuberant that she got to sandwich them around Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" with Stevie Nicks herself joining Ms. Swift onstage. (And, for that matter, Stevie Nicks sticking around to contribute backing vocals and tambourine to "You Belong With Me.")

So after the broadcast, when I did what any self-respecting person does immediately after a major TV event - check my Facebook live feed - I was shocked to see comment after comment about how Taylor Swift cannot sing. This was particularly common among my many musician friends, who responded en masse like dogs gathering around the source of a sound that only they could hear. "Pitchy." "Butchering 'Rhiannon.'" "Atrocious." Status after status, comment after comment, the pros and accomplished amateurs had nothing but bad things to say about Hendersonville's Own and the pain that her attempted warbling had put them through.

But really, was Taylor Swift's performance that horrendous? My own initial impression, as stated above, was favorable. Sure, I didn't think she was note-perfect, but I thought she was well within acceptable parameters for live singing. But suspecting that over 50,000,000 musicians on Facebook can't be wrong, I watched the performance again today via YouTube, listening with very critical ears this time.

And... ok, she was perhaps more off than I thought she was initially, but no way was it even close to the crazy bad disaster that I keep hearing about. From all the commentary, you'd think this was a trainwreck on the level of Roseanne Barr or Carl Lewis attempting "The Star-Spangled Banner." Even after relistening, I think Taylor Swift's performance was not only genuine, open, and fun, but was hardly the affront to professional singing that everyone else seems to think. In fact, I think she got stronger as the performance went on, and she brings things home in fine style with suitable shadings of vulnerability during "You Belong To Me."

But then again, I'm almost certainly not the best judge. Even though I love music beyond almost anything else, I have known since at least junior high that I lack the natural skills that real musicians exhibit without even trying. In umpteen years of playing piano and trumpet (I abandoned both when I graduated from high school), I was always a slave to the sheet music. I rarely could play anything by ear. To this day, I can't tell you what chord is being played, or what key a song is in. If you asked me to sing a "middle C," I probably couldn't. I'm not tone deaf, at least according to the definitions I've read and the online tests that I've taken, but I'm pretty sure I'm not musician material.

Nevertheless, I still opine that this is a good performance. And thanks to YouTube, you can be your own judge: